Peggy Judy | Western Pursuits

Peggy Judy portrays the life that has been close to her heart and home since childhood

By Norman Klopas

Peggy Judy, Longhorn Mama, oil, 18 x 24.

Peggy Judy, Longhorn Mama, oil, 18 x 24.

This story was featured in the August 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

“I saw a cow, and I drew a cow.” In those words, artist Peggy Judy succinctly sums up the earliest memory—from when she was about 2 years old—that foreshadowed her current career as a fine artist depicting the animals, people, and landscapes of the American West.

She was riding in the back seat of the family car on an outing not far from where they lived in a rural area near Morrison, CO, just west of Denver. Back home, young Peggy grabbed a sheet of paper and a brown crayon—“because it was a brown cow”—and produced what she describes today as “just a very simple line drawing, but you could see it was a cow.” Her parents framed the
work and proudly displayed it on the living-room wall.

Jump forward some 57 years to today, and you’ll find Judy’s paintings hanging on the walls of galleries across Colorado and in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Minnesota, and New York. They’ve also been featured and won prizes in leading western museums and shows. The works are impressive in their own right, and all the more so for the fact that she began actively pursuing her fine-arts career little more than five years ago. “It’s very storybook,” says Judy, now 59, of her success. “I pinch myself all the time.”

Starting with that first brown cow, art became an essential social skill for Judy. “I’m very shy,” she admits. “So I let my drawings do the talking for me, and that’s how I got through school and college.” If there was a group project in her grade-school classroom, she says, “everybody looked to me to design it. I might not have liked to talk, but I definitely liked to run the show.”

During junior high, her teachers and counselors thought that drama class might help her break through her shyness. Of course, she became the set designer, adding that nonverbal achievement to a long roster of others, including posters for school events and design work for the yearbook.

All through her education, she received loving support from her parents. In fact, her dad—himself the son of a professional lithographer and illustrator for the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post—had been a talented artist himself, though he instead pursued engineering and worked for the U.S. Department of Energy at its Rocky Flats nuclear plant near Denver. Recalls Judy, “He always said to me, ‘Do what you want to do.’”

A key moment during high school came during her senior trip to New York City. “We visited all the museums, and it was just mind-boggling to get up close to paintings I had only seen in books. The Rembrandts were absolutely phenomenal.”

As graduation approached, Judy says, she “never thought of doing anything else” but studying art in college. During the five-year Bachelor of Fine Arts program at Colorado State University, she listed her concentration as “illustration” whenever she could, even though the art department didn’t offer it at the time.

Her talent earned recognition early on. During her sophomore year, as seniors in her department were submitting their portfolios to Hallmark for coveted jobs illustrating greeting cards, one of her professors submitted Judy’s portfolio as well. She wound up being the only student invited to the company’s Kansas City headquarters for a round of interviews, which culminated in a one-on-one meeting with chairman Don Hall. As Judy tells it, “He said to me, ‘Well, you have the job if you want it. But if you were my daughter, I would tell you to get your butt back in school.’ And so I did.”

But it was more than just Hall’s admonition that fueled Judy’s desire to complete her studies. “I loved art school. My professors were wonderful, and some of them are now my friends,” she says. She pauses, thinking back to her shyness. “I just wish I could have asked them more questions.”

Still, that reticence didn’t keep her from seeking and finding work when she graduated in 1982, even as a recession was hitting the country. She began doing freelance illustration work, mostly for companies in downtown Denver; she drove into the city from her parents’ home, where she continued to live, staying close to the family’s horses she had loved and ridden since childhood. In her spare time, she painted watercolor landscapes, which she sold at weekend art fairs around greater Denver. “That was a really great experience for me,” she says, not only for the painting practice and the extra income but also because, Judy adds with a laugh, “I did have to learn to speak to people.”

That skill may have come in handy during the autumn of 1987, when Lin Judy, a young equine veterinarian who’d recently graduated from Kansas State University, came out to the family’s house to perform an insurance examination on one of the horses. Lin was shy, too, but he and Peggy struck up a conversation. He proposed 11 days later, and they married two months
after that, “as soon as the church had an open spot,” Judy says. Last January, the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.

Judy dedicated herself to newlywed life, to helping grow and manage the independent veterinary practice Lin soon launched, and then to raising their two children: son Ethan, now 26, a senior at Colorado School of Mines following a stint in the Marine Corps; and daughter Josie, 23, who earned a degree at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and now works in Denver at a company dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed.

Once their daughter was off at college, says Judy, “I had a little bit of time, and I thought I would go to the art store, buy some paints, and dabble a bit.” She began painting, “mostly horses, because I certainly knew them.” To her surprise, after all those years away from painting, she found creating art “addicting.” Soon she had assembled a body of works, “and Lin said, ‘You
should go to a gallery.’” So she did some online research and settled on her first prospect, the well-respected Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, CO, near Aspen, which specializes in contemporary western art and artists. She emailed them a few digital images and a few weeks later got a phone call inviting her to bring in some pieces.

“I made the five-and-a-half-hour drive from where we lived with 25 paintings,” Judy recalls. “They kept all 25. And on the way home, I got a call that they’d just sold two right off the floor!” More recognition came quickly as well, including top awards from the Tesoro Cultural Center in Morrison and the Golden Fine Arts Festival in Golden, CO. In 2014, her paintings were included in museum shows in Connecticut and New York. In 2015 alone, her works appeared in the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale in Denver, the Mountain Oyster Club Contemporary Western Art Show and Sale in Tucson, the 8×8 Invitational Art Show and Sale in Dallas, and the Stampede Western Invitational Art Exhibit and Sale in Greeley, CO.

With every year, Judy’s range and self-assurance as a fine artist have continued to grow. About two and a half years ago she branched out from her beloved horses and started incorporating other western subjects into her work as well, in response to commission requests she received for paintings based on old family photos. “I took that as a challenge to step outside of my comfort zone, and I fell in love with painting people,” she says. Today, many of her works feature cowboys on horseback, from an action-filled depiction of a roundup to more peaceful scenes along the trail. Others occasionally focus on people alone. THE MISSING BUTTON, for example, is based on a vintage photo of a client’s grandparents, capturing an intimate moment as a ranch
wife performs a last-minute repair on her husband’s vest.

Whatever the subject, Judy begins each piece with some sort of photo
reference—which she now captures on the ranches of Colorado’s western slope, where she and Lin moved in June into a new house on 40 acres (the land was part of the Mad Dog Ranch established by the late rock singer Joe Cocker and his wife). She snaps copious images, she says, but “I will usually know as I’m taking a photo that it’s the one I’m going to paint. What strikes
me the most is how the light hits, creating a series of shapes and silhouettes. I look for balance in the composition. I want my eye to immediately rest and not flicker around.”

Next, she’ll usually sketch the image straight onto a primed canvas using a heavy ebony-lead pencil. “Then I start painting the things that are scariest to me, like the face. If I don’t have that nailed, I don’t go farther,” she says. After that, “the rest of the painting is cake. It’s a series of shapes. I start in one spot, fill in the shape, and it grows.” She finds her background as an illustrator carries into her work today. “I used to try to fight it, but now, what the heck,” she laughs. “I’m telling a story rather than just depicting a scene. I like to take something I see and make it an intimate moment that carries a lot of significance.”

In fact, going forward, she plans to add an even stronger narrative element to her work. “I’ve been thinking I want to do some series of very large paintings that tell the story of people’s lives in four or five paintings,” she says. With goals like that, it seems clear that Judy has discovered her true calling as a western artist. Ultimately, she says, “I think I’ve found the subject I’m meant to paint.”

Ann Korologos Gallery, Basalt, CO; Equis Art Gallery, Red Hook, NY; Mary Williams Fine Arts, Boulder, CO; Wilde Meyer Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Art Resources Gallery, Minneapolis, MN; Tracy Miller Gallery, Manitou Springs, CO; Western Stars Gallery & Studio, Lyons, CO; Acosta Strong Fine Art, Santa Fe, NM; Oh Be Joyful Gallery, Crested Butte, CO; Lodgepole Gallery, Steamboat Springs, CO; Summit Gallery, Park City, UT;

This story was featured in the August 2018 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art August 2018 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.

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